In this edition: The 2018 election is (finally) over, Democrats keep shrinking their caucus map, Democrats look forward to a North Carolina special, and a Comey-Gowdy exchange.
I'm not going to be the next White House chief of staff, and this is The Trailer.
On Saturday, Louisianans went to the polls and gave Republican Kyle Ardoin another term as secretary of state, officially wrapping up the 2018 elections. At the same time, California's marathon vote count came to an end, with the last few counties adding up their ballots and firming up the Democratic landslide.
At last, more than four weeks after "the midterms," we have a nearly complete picture of the electorate and the elected. Day by day, North Carolina's 9th Congressional District is getting closer to a new election. Across the rest of the country, elections are getting certified, and it's finally possible to see where the parties will stand as they head into 2020. No amount of campaign cash was able to stop the migration of rural white voters into the GOP. No amount of money could save the suburbs from Democrats. Republicans are in better shape than you might expect for the next House elections; they may be in worse shape come 2022.
Here's the scorecard, starting with the state of the parties as compared with their status after the 2016 elections.
Senate: 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats and independents (R 1)
House: 235 Democrats, 199 Republicans (D 41)
Governors: 27 Republicans, 23 Democrats (D 7)
Attorneys general: 26 Democrats, 24 Republicans (D 4)
State legislative chambers: 61 Republican, 38 Democratic (D 8)
State "trifectas": 23 Republican, 14 Democratic (D 7)
The short-lived "what wave?" commentary that followed the election can be explained by a look at everything outside the House map; Republicans consolidated their control of several red states, and Democrats recovered only part of what they'd lost during the Obama years.
The Southern state legislatures they ran until 2010 are simply not winnable for the current iteration of the Democratic Party; Republicans flipped back at least 10 of the 41 seats they'd lost in special elections since 2016. And yet, pending any more gains or losses in 2020, Republicans are now in full control of the next round of redistricting in 17 states, down from 25 states where they controlled the process in 2011. At that time, Republicans were able to draw their own maps in every Midwestern state except Illinois and Minnesota. Come 2021, Republicans may have total control over the maps in just two states, Indiana and Ohio.
House popular vote margin: Democrats by 8.6 points, as calculated by the Cook Political Report. That's the largest popular vote margin for any party since 1974. Not since 1930 have Republicans lost control of the House — not just lost seats, but handed the gavels to Democrats — by as wide a margin as they lost it this year.
House members who won with less than 50 percent of the vote: Just three, assuming the results in North Carolina's 9th District can't be certified: Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne (49.5 percent), Kansas Republican Steve Watkins (48.1 percent) and New York Rep. Chris Collins (49.4 percent). Put another way, there are fewer members of Congress who won with a mere plurality of the vote (these three, plus West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats) than there are states won in 2016 by President Trump with less than 50 percent of the vote (seven).
House Democrats in Trump districts: 30, up from 13 before the election, though it will tick up to 31 if a special election is called in North Carolina's 9th District and Republicans don't win. The new Democratic "Trump districts" are: Georgia's 6th; Iowa's 1st and 3rd; Illinois's 14th; Maine's 2nd; Michigan's 8th and 11th; New Jersey's 2nd, 3rd and 11th; New Mexico's 2nd; New York's 11th, 19th and 22nd; Oklahoma's 5th; Pennsylvania's 17th; South Carolina's 1st; Utah's 4th; and Virginia's 2nd and 7th.
You don't have to squint to see a path back to a Republican majority in 2020; winning a little more than half of these seats would do that. But the flipped districts fall into two distinct categories. In 10 districts, Trump ran weaker than Mitt Romney had in 2012, while in the other 20, he ran stronger.
In New Mexico's 2nd District (Trump by 10.2), New Jersey's 2nd District (Trump by 4.6), and Utah's 4th District (Trump by 6.7), Republicans never recovered from weak candidate recruiting or scandal; in South Carolina's 1st District (Trump by 13.1) and Virginia's 7th District (Trump by 6.5), they were saddled with candidates who ran hard to the right, even though the districts had been shifting toward Democrats.
House Republicans in Hillary districts: three, down from 25 before the election. After last month, the only Republicans whose constituents backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 are Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). All of them made moves to separate themselves from the president, opposing the 2017 effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. All of them faced left-wing challengers who had not initially been supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Closest House race won by a Democrat: Utah 4th. With every ballot counted, Democrat Ben McAdams edged out Rep. Mia Love (R) by just 694 votes out of 269,234 cast, a winning margin of around 0.2 points.
Closest House race won by a Republican: Georgia 7th. Rep. Rob Woodall (R), whose low-effort reelection bid worried his party, pulled out only a 419-vote win here, with 280,441 ballots cast — as in Utah, a margin of around 0.2 points.
Narrowest win by a Democratic incumbent: Minnesota 7th. Even after Trump's 30.8-point win here, Republicans never found a strong challenger to Rep. Collin Peterson (D). That cost them: On a night when the party finally took back two of the state's "outer Minnesota" rural districts, Peterson held on by 4.2 points, winning by 12,004 out of 281,340 votes. Peterson ran a remarkable 35.2 points ahead of Hillary Clinton's performance and 14.2 points ahead of Barack Obama's numbers here in 2012.
Biggest Republican incumbent improvement over 2016: Wisconsin 8th. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R) won a second term here by the biggest margin of any Republican on the ballot in the Great Lakes region, a 27.4-point thumping over Democrat Beau Liegeois. Unusually for this cycle, Democrats more or less conceded the seat early, with Liegeois raising less than $400,000 and getting no national support. But Gallagher's strong campaign was noticed by Republicans, who are already thinking about who could run to replace Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in 2022 if he makes good on his retirement pledge.
Biggest Democratic incumbent improvement over 2016: Florida 7th. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) flipped this suburban Orlando seat in 2016, an upset that Republicans blamed on the lazy reelection strategy of then- Rep. John Mica. This year, Republicans recruited a credible challenger, who raised more than $1.1 million and had a strong state campaign driving up turnout. The result: Murphy's margin grew from 3 points to 15.4 points, even after she had to dispatch a primary challenge from the left. Murphy, now the leader of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, grew her base better than any other Democratic freshman.
Biggest margin of defeat for an incumbent: Virginia 10th. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) lost by 12.4 points after winning by 5.8 points in 2016. Other Republicans saw similar swings against them; Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) won by just 5.4 points, down from a 35.2-point margin in 2016. But no Republican hit the mat as hard as Comstock.
Most money spent per vote: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). She led Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) in fundraising throughout the campaign, eventually spending $168.90 for each vote she won in a state that cast fewer votes than Maryland's Montgomery County — and ending the campaign with millions of dollars on hand, thanks to a surge of donations after her no vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Least money spent per vote: Kevin de Leon. The left-wing challenger to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) never attracted the attention or support that he craved, but he ran far ahead of expectations on Election Day, helped by Republican voters for whom he was the only option to cast an anti-Feinstein vote. De Leon spent just 35 cents for each of the 5,093,942 million votes he won.
Best endorsement record: Joe Biden. He campaigned across the country in the final weeks of 2018, and 71.4 percent of his endorsed candidates won. For comparison, just 58.3 percent of candidates endorsed by the president won, and just 46.7 percent of candidates endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) won, though the Vermont senator has made it known that he'll campaign for candidates with long odds. The year's worst endorsement record may belong to outgoing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R); just nine of the 22 House candidates he rallied with in the campaign's final weeks will take the oath in January.
Best turnout: Montana. It was the one and only state that set a total votes cast record in 2018. That's right — more Montanans voted this year, 504,384, than had voted in any presidential election.
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Louisiana Governor. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R) announced a gubernatorial bid this past week, which didn't come as a wild surprise to anyone who saw his final 2018 campaign ad. It effectively reintroduced him as a doctor who ambled into politics to make a difference, similar to the biography that Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) used to his benefit in 2014.
Both Republicans and Democrats are lurching toward a new election in North Carolina's 9th District. Ask them in the right mood, however, and Democrats will say they've got the advantage if the narrow, tainted victory of Republican Mark Harris is tossed out.
First things first: Both Harris and Democrat Dan McCready have suggested that allegations of election fraud on the Republican's behalf may have made it impossible to certify the election. McCready broke his silence Thursday, withdrawing his concession and calling for a new election. Harris tentatively followed him Friday, though he stopped short of saying the election had been fatally flawed.
“If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results,” Harris said in a statement on Friday.
On paper, the district would seem to slant toward Republicans in any off-year election. The president carried it in 2016 by 11.6 points; its Republican-drawn lines include all of Union County, the sort of exurban community that delivered big for the party in 2018.
The problem, as explained by Politico's Elena Schneider, is that Republicans have no ready mechanism for getting rid of Harris. State law allows the Republican-run legislature to call a new election but not to replace the candidates who ran in the negated election. North Carolina Republicans, who have a supermajority in the legislature for the next 21 days, could, in theory, pass a new law allowing for a fresh primary, but there's no discussion of that. The only other body that could intervene would be the U.S. House of Representatives, which, in 23 days, will be controlled by Democrats and has not faced pressure from Republicans to allow a mulligan in the Harris race.
A McCready-Harris rematch would, based on the 2017-2018 special election trends, start with the Republican at a disadvantage. First, McCready already proved to be a strong fundraiser, nearly tripling Harris's cash totals, spending $6.1 million to Harris's $2.1 million; the pro-Republican Congressional Leadership Fund spent heavily to close the gap.
Second, the district has all the elements that hurt Republicans in the specials, with a large Democratic base near an urban center (in this case, Charlotte) and a Democrat who distanced himself from the national party. Four months ago, in the special election for Ohio's 12th District, Franklin County (Columbus) cast 35.4 percent of the vote, and nearly pushed Democrats to a win. On Nov. 6, rural and exurban turnout jumped, and Franklin cast 34.1 percent of the vote.
The gist: The best chance Mark Harris had at becoming a member of Congress may have come and gone.
Most days, this part of the newsletter is a rundown of where potential White House candidates are going and what they’re saying. But there was news over the weekend that will matter more to the nominating process than any individual speech: Nebraska Democrats voted to replace their caucus with a primary, a move that could hurt any “insurgent” candidates in 2020.
Nebraska is one of just a few states where delegates have been selected in caucuses but where presidential primaries remain on the ballot in so-called “beauty contents” — voters show up for their regularly scheduled primaries and cast a presidential ballot that doesn’t count.
That process revealed a gap between the support for grass-roots candidates in caucuses and their support from a wider electorate. In 2008, Barack Obama clobbered Hillary Clinton in Nebraska’s caucuses, winning 67.6 percent of the vote and two-thirds of the state’s delegates. Weeks later, he took just 49.1 percent of the vote in the nonbinding primary. Clinton careened into the same trap eight years later, as Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) won 57.1 percent of the caucus vote, then just 46.9 percent in the nonbinding primary.
In 2016, 14 states held caucuses, and all but two of them backed Sanders. But the 2020 caucus pool has shrunk to just eight states: Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah and Washington. Nearly 200 delegates formerly chosen in caucuses will be chosen in primaries instead, something that reform advocates favored as a way to broaden the electorate.
“It’s great for anyone who can’t take a few hours out of their day to go to a caucus location,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D), who will be sworn in next month as the governor of Colorado, which is among those switching. “It’s great that the candidates will be engaging with a broader swath of Coloradoans.”
Not much was learned when former FBI director James Comey testified before a closed session of the House Judiciary Committee, for probably the last time. It's unlikely that a new Democratic majority will continue asking whether the FBI went too easy on the party's 2016 presidential candidate, who, as Comey has said, blames her defeat on the FBI's election intervention.
The testimony did give us some peerless, sarcastic repartee, with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who's retiring this year, asking Comey to respond to hyperbolic texts from FBI agents about how Hillary Clinton deserved to win by a "100 million to zero" margin, given her opposition.
GOWDY: In the course of human history, has anyone won an election 100 million to zero, to your knowledge?
COMEY: In the United States?
COMEY: I don't mean to be facetious. I can't speak to Stalin's reelection or Mao Tse-tung reelection campaigns.
GOWDY: 100 million to zero is a lot.
COMEY: Sure. I'm not trying to be facetious, but I remember as a student the vote in Soviet Russia was 99.9 percent to...
GOWDY: We are going to get to Russia in a little bit. We'll get to Russia in a little bit.
COMEY: I can answer your question, Mr. Gowdy. In the United States, I'm not aware of any such lopsided vote.
Before you Google: Even Soviet regimes tended to allow scattered votes for independent parties, so it's unlikely that anyone has won an election by 100 million votes to zero.
"Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition," by Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig
The news with the biggest potential impact on 2020.
"The GOP Sees Rural Voters as More Legitimate Than Urban Voters," by Jamelle Bouie
A look at the longterm political implications of something that's become part of Republican rhetoric: That there is something unfair, and in need of correction, when rural voters are outnumbered.
"We'll always have. .. Fort Worth?" by Kevin Williamson
A conservative response to the emergent "cities should count less" thinking, asking the movement to consider what it would take to win over the sort of aspirational voters who've been leaving since 2016.
"Cory Booker Dips a Toe Into New Hampshire as 2020 Decision Nears," by Shane Goldmacher
The senator's Saturday visit to the state was just the latest example of his early, serious exploration of whether he can win the primary.
... four days until Tom Steyer's town hall in Fresno
... 11 days until the Progress Iowa Democratic dinner in Des Moines